The front office that never sleeps

The front office that never sleeps

The majority of customers automatically expect to be able to pay for their purchases by card. But who makes this possible and what is actually going on in the background?

An astonishing amount happens in 300 milliseconds

Nowadays, it is becoming increasingly common to pay for all kinds of purchases using cashless means of payment, such as cards, smartphones or smartwatches. This is quick, easy, independent of currency, accepted globally and has become even more popular with users for hygiene reasons since the start of the pandemic.

Only very few people are aware that an amazing amount of activity is going on in the background. In 300 milliseconds, which is a barely noticeable length of time, various data is sent back and forth between the bank, merchant and cardholder when a transaction is made before the “Payment accepted” notification appears. This is not just about checking the ability to enter into the transaction or whether the card belongs to the assigned bank and the identified cardholder. Among other things, queries also take place to ascertain whether the account has sufficient funds and whether the cardholder is old enough to purchase an age-restricted service.

Around 100 employees work at the Biel location in three different areas: Acquiring, Issuing and Terminal Integration. The teams speak at least three official Swiss national languages every day, as well as English.

Front Office Acquiring: Over 20 million transactions a day

Johan Chavaillaz is Head Front Office Acquiring ep2 Application Engineering and works with 20 employees to develop the application that communicates with the terminals at the Point of Sales (POS). He is very aware of what he finds most interesting about his work: “In the front office, we have full responsibility for ensuring that the merchant gets paid for all the transactions processed by us. Our services work 24/7, so around the clock without any downtime at all. We are the front office that never sleeps.”

The front office processes approx. 20 million transactions a day in real time and the peak value was reached last year, amounting to a volume of almost 27 million transactions on 23 December 2020. “The systems need to be able to communicate perfectly with each other and be sufficiently set up to process this volume with the usual security and speed,” adds Lukas Lechner, Head Front Office Acquiring. “In addition to the high number of transactions, Front Office Acquiring also needs to be able to identify and process 14 different card systems and around 40 transaction sources from 37 countries.”

Front Office - Johan Chavaillaz - SIX Payment Services

Johan Chavaillaz, Head Front Office Acquiring ep2 Application Engineering

Front Office - Lukas Lechner - SIX Payment Services

Lukas Lechner, Head Front Office Acquiring

A solution for each new requirement

The front office at the Biel location also includes the Issuing Team, which covers all bank services. This includes, for example, checking the data between the bank and cardholder or providing support for the functionality of debit cards. “The simplest form of card use is paying for a purchase. However, a countless number of requirements, which are also changing all the time, are coming from our customers or business partners. The exciting bit for me is finding a solution for each new requirement,” explains Salma Cherif, Head of the Issuing Team. 

Front Office - Salma Cherif Home Office - SIX Payment Services

Salma Cherif, Head of the Issuing Team

The business transactions are as diverse as a language

Christoph Anderegg’s team is also part of the front office. Working together with five colleagues, he programmes the interface between the terminal and a merchant’s integrated cash register system. The Head of the POI Development Department compares the complexity of the software with the diversity of a language: “Our team uses data formats to describe how the two systems of the terminal and cash register talk to one another. This includes syntax, grammar and words that we represent using data formats so that a payment can successfully be made.” The transactions that a customer may wish to process can be as diverse as a language. An example of this is a hotel booking: The amount is reserved on the card to be debited at a later date when it becomes payable. Another example is a ticket purchase when the machine only prints one of the two purchased tickets because it runs out of paper. In this case, the cash register may only debit the correct amount for one ticket. In both cases, it is important that communication between the terminal and cash register is tailored to the situation.

Further, the POI Development Department is responsible for enabling communication with foreign systems because each country has its own communication standards that a terminal has to be able to implement, in order to provide the cash register with the correct information. The TIM server (Till Integration Module) provides this kind of log translation and communicates between the terminal and/or e-commerce platform and the cash register system in the respective language.

We are very proud of our front office team in Biel as they work hard every day to ensure that our customers and partners are happy. We would like to thank all our employees for their hard work, motivation, creativity and loyalty.